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Subspecialties Other, Professional Development, Comprehensive

An Eye for Detail

Correct. There are few who haven’t heard of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, arguably the most famous and formative crime sleuthing duos to inhabit the genre – but did you know that the creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was an ophthalmologist? On November 20, 1886, 27-year-old Conan Doyle’s first ever Sherlock Holmes book, A Study in Scarlet, was accepted for publication – launching a lengthy spell as an author and signifying the beginning of the end to his medical duties.

After achieving a Bachelor of Medicine and Master of Surgery in 1880, and an MD degree in 1885, he chose to specialize in ophthalmology in 1890, training in Vienna and Paris before setting up an ophthalmology practice in central London. Eventually, the medical career would subside for his literary pursuits, but the influence of his time as a doctor and ophthalmologist was clear – with ophthalmology bleeding into the pages of one mystery (spoiler warning), where the murder weapon was a cataract surgical knife.

Apart from Watson being a physician, Holmes’ methodical reasoning, perceptive deductions, and diagnostic processes (coined as Holmesian) share a great deal with those employed by doctors (albeit with fewer fictitious elements), and were affected greatly by Doyle’s medical career (1). The integration of criminology and analysis of physical evidence in Doyle’s writing have been credited as a driving force for the adoption of forensic science, and inspiration for those who pursue it as a discipline.

Do you see your practice as Holmesian? Or has another fictitious character inspired you to end up working in your area of ophthalmology? Comment below or email [email protected].

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  1. J Reed, “A medical perspective on the adventures of Sherlock Holmes,” Med Humanit, 27, 76 (2001). PMID: 23670927.
About the Author
Geoffrey Potjewyd

Associate Editor, The Ophthalmologist

The lion’s share of my PhD was spent in the lab, and though I mostly enjoyed it (mostly), what I particularly liked was the opportunity to learn about the latest breakthroughs in research. Communicating science to a wider audience allows me to scratch that itch without working all week only to find my stem cell culture has given up the ghost on the Friday (I’m not bitter). Fortunately for me, it turns out writing is actually fun – so by working for Texere I get to do it every day, whilst still being an active member of the clinical and research community.

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